Friday, May 21, 2021

Down the street from the office: A tale about teleworking and how to make new fellows feel welcome

Hello, all! My name is Kate Vogel, and in May 2020 I was paired to work with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as their Coastal Management Fellow. I had just received my M.S. in Conservation Ecology and Environmental Policy from the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, and I was eager to start something new. After a week of intense interviews, zoom calls, and pacing back and forth in the kitchen with my parents, it was my turn to hear the news… “Congratulations, you’ve been paired with Maryland DNR!” Now, a year later, I definitely feel like the luckiest fellow. Teleworking in the times of COVID isn’t easy, but with a good team, anything is possible.
Kate Vogel, Michigan Sea Grant Coastal Management Fellow

Within just a few weeks, I already felt like I was part of the team. My mentors sent me the most amazing care package -- a National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) shirt, Bergers Cookies, crab-seasoned potato chips, and a postcard with some Assateague ponies on it. I was invited to staff meetings, virtual happy hours, and even the NOAA 312 program evaluation, the five-year NOAA evaluation of the MD Coastal Program. I have to admit, at first it was nerve-wracking to show up in meetings with strangers, but the persistence of my mentors in introducing me to people, asking for my opinions in meetings, and treating me as an equal has been the key to my success. Everyone always has their cameras on in meetings, they never fail to introduce their pets, and they love asking questions about Michigan and sharing their own experiences in our beautiful state. Before I had even moved to Annapolis, it felt like I was starting to recognize people’s faces… my new coworkers even noticed when I got a haircut!

At Assateague Island National Seashore in March to learn about their adaptation efforts.

When I finally moved to Annapolis, I realized I was just a ten-minute walk away from my office, which was my dream, but we were still teleworking. Nevertheless, on my first day of work in August I picked out a cubicle, worked with IT to get my laptop set up, ordered supplies, and explored Annapolis with my fellowship mentor. Working from home in a new state with a new job can be lonely, but starting my job already knowing some of my coworkers has completely changed the experience for me. Since starting, my mentors and coworkers have made it a priority to introduce me to new projects and opportunities in addition to my fellowship project. My main assignment is to write climate change adaptation and resilience plans for Assateague State Park, Pocomoke State Forest, and Browns Branch Wildlife Management area. I am really lucky in that I have been able to go on some incredible site visits to these areas to learn more about the climate change threats and opportunities, in addition to going on monthly hikes with my mentors. Other projects that I have gotten to work on include designing a “Walktober” campaign, planning Nature Play and NatureCity Conferences, participating in the Maryland Commission on Climate Change and in climate change coordination meetings, and many more! Having multiple responsibilities has made me feel very valued as someone new to the unit, and has given me the opportunity to learn about all of the great projects DNR works on!

Often, I am asked what starting a new job virtually was like and how people can support new hires virtually. In my office, we might not go back to work until late fall or early next year, so I think there is a lot of value in asking these questions. Here are my tips:

For Fellows

For Mentors

  • Sign up for new opportunities 

  • Go to the virtual coffee chats, happy hours, etc… even if you don’t participate, it’s great for associating people’s faces with their names! 

  • Research who you are working with to familiarize yourself with the work of your coworkers

  • Ask questions! 

  • Invite your fellows to everything and anything 

  • Use your cameras in meetings

  • Reach out to your new hires and check in on how they are doing, professionally and personally 

  • Introduce new employees to your coworkers! My mentors have done this via 20-minute “hallway chats”


I now live even closer to my office than I did before, and I am grateful to know that when we get to work in-person again I won’t feel like a stranger. Instead, I’ll get to walk by friends and coworkers as I walk down the decorated hallway to my cubicle that overlooks the garden. Starting a new job during a pandemic wasn’t easy, but seeing the development of my climate change plans and getting to collaborate with 25+ people on a new project for the state has been totally worth it, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

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